I have a confession to make and it’s a confession that is tinged with sadness, unexplained guilt, and even some notion of generational regret.
I will admit in the 90’s, like so many others I began to embrace the sonic revolution of the Compact Disc. Its promise of ease, convenience, indestructibility and even “guaranteed” fidelity was an offer too tempting not to refuse.
It never struck me that, years later, I would make my own accidental stand against this brave new world of digital promises, receive shocking sonic and personal revelations, and realize how much has been missed on past and current generations in those intervening years.
Recently I purchased newly pressed versions of some of the most beloved classic albums from the 60’s and 70’s. Directly after my purchase at the record store a strangle feeling of anticipation washed over me as I raced out of the store. As soon as I got home, I couldn’t wait to examine my tightly, plastic-wrapped collection of vinyl.
After examining each individual record, I was even more impressed by the physicality/size of the “music”. Curiously, each album held even more gravitas than in the store. I had forgotten how album covers could pop out, grab your attention and draw you into their world. There was a depth and inner life in the albums artwork. While I examined the artwork from Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop album, I could look deep inside Jeff’s guitar garage with all its finer details and delight in the subtle humour of the art design.
Holding this 12” x 12” album I instantly felt more respect for the music. Just the weight and size of the record seemed to add to the idea that an artist had sweated and sacrificed hours, days and even months for what I was about to listen to – this was something substantial.
Slowly removing the record from its cover and then its inner sleeve was an experience to be savoured and not rushed. With the record in hand, the slow procession to the other side of the room to the record player was both cautious and reverent. This almost-lost ceremony had been performed by so many countless times over the last 100 years.
I remember as a child that playing a record seemed to be a big deal with adults at the time. Even more so I remember as a teenager hanging out, playing and listening to each other’s records, the music was shared and experienced together. There were always new revelations to be heard and discussed with the listening of every new record and then again with the re-listening.
As I placed the record slowly on the turntable, I clumsily tried to line up the stylus above the first groove of the record, a simple mechanical skill I had clearly forgotten. With the needle hovering above the first groove I switched the release lever and the record stylus began its slow-motion decent towards the rotating vinyl. With one crackle, the needle found the groove on the record, two silent rotations of the record at 33 RPM and then the music I loved was played and sounded the way it was intended. Oh, the sheer joy to my ears!
Yes, I will confess I had forgotten the significance of the vinyl medium over the years. In this digital age of streaming and downloads I think that maybe we have lost some of the respect for the music, perhaps we have simply taken for granted the time and the effort of some many artists applied to their art by now just being only one click away to the huge libraries of digitised music via streaming and digital music stores.
The visit, the browse and search at the local record store has almost completely disappeared.
No longer do we perform the ceremony of walking ‘the path’ to the stereo or turntable. Even the communal joy of playing a record and sitting down, sharing music with friends has been lost and replaced with the isolation of the white ear-pod listening of music. And what about that special sonic ‘something’ that’s vinyl records seem to have?
But, right now in fact, I hear something that requires my immediate attention. I feel now compelled to begin that other well-travelled path of previous generations and now flip the record over to side B……